Is North Dakota the next Silicon Valley? Um, probably not. But Renuka Rayasam reports that states that are typically ignored by VCs are coming up with innovative ways to encourage angel investing. "Now the states can build their own companies rather than relying on big companies to come to the area," says Rayasam. She has also written for Condé Nast Portfolio, U.S. News & World Report, and the Austin- American Statesman.

"I like to go for the slightly surreal, the conceptual," says photographer Phillip Toledano. Exhibit A: his portrait in this issue of Bill Kaplan, founder of the famed MIT Blackjack Team. Toledano's book projects, however, haven't shied away from reality. In 2001, while the country was in a recession, Toledano started taking photos of abandoned offices, which turned into his 2005 book, Bankrupt. A book of photos of phone sex operators, titled PhoneSex, will be published this fall. Toledano has also shot for Vanity Fair, Time, New York, The New York Times Magazine, and GQ.

For years, companies have been allowing employees to work flexible hours, perhaps letting them work from home a day or two each week. But J.A. Counter's approach is "flextime on steroids," says writer Scott Westcott. The company lets employees leave the office whenever they please, no questions asked. "It takes a high level of trust that's pretty rare," says Westcott, a frequent contributor to Inc. Westcott has also written for Woman's Day and Parents. He lives in Erie, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two children.

In his 2005 book, Small Giants, editor-at-large Bo Burlingham asked readers to nominate companies to write about. Gainesville Health and Fitness Center stood out among the nominees. "One thing that small giants all share is that they have very close ties to their communities," says Burlingham. "I've never seen a company that illustrated that better than this one." His next book, The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up, written with Inc. columnist Norm Brodsky, will be published in October.

Robert Andrew Powell bought a pair of shoes made by tiny Newton Running while he was training for his first marathon. Newton claims its shoes can make you run faster, which is just what Powell was looking to do. And like a lot of runners, he invested a great deal of faith in his shoes. "I stared at them like they were the answer," Powell says. "But I got self- conscious about it. Everyone knows that you spent $175 for them." Powell, who has written for The New York Times Magazine and Mother Jones, is the author of We Own This Game: A Season in the Adult World of Football, which Sports Illustrated named one of the best sports books of 2003.